Broke in Two

by Steele Campbell

 

Two inches farther and the concrete would have hit my hair—or only my shadow. As it is, I go to physical therapy three times a week. They say I will get a little better. But they never say all better.

I know a guy with one leg who has never used a computer. He has tattoos on his head instead of hair. He’s the one that pulled me from the pool and let me bleed in his lap until the ambulance came.

Most people can move their neck sixty degrees to either side. On a good day I have fifteen on one and twenty-five on the other. And that is side to side. The real problem is back and forth. From my chin to my chest I can move both up and down. But if my head tips back it slips off my shoulders and I am stuck staring at the ceiling until I take my hands and set it back on. This is the worst during sex. No one wants to be with a girl who occasionally just loses her head. So I stick mostly to giving them head where I know they will hold mine right in place. Then they are not eye to eye with my scar.

Sometimes I sit at the edge of the pool and finger the spot I hit, feeling for some mark I left there. Scratching for some wound created in my image. Kenny says I shouldn’t do this. That I should let it go and forget the whole incident ever happened.

“Sounds like a great idea,” I tell him. “Just like you should either roll up that empty pant leg or else wear your damn prosthetic.”

“That’s different,” he says. “This was because of a girl. You were just drunk.”

He thinks I must’ve been drunk to miss my mark when I never had in years. I mean, a girl with diving trophies and ribbons on the mantle next to a picture of the dog she no longer owns doesn’t slip. These things don’t just happen. So I let him go on believing what he wants. I don’t tell him I was sober because I can’t tell him I was crying.

The doctors tell me I was lucky that it didn’t break my neck. I could be dead, or worse. It was only muscle they say.

“Doesn’t muscle heal? I mean, over time?” I ask.

“Not always.” She tried to smile at me more sweetly than she already was. “Sometimes the muscle will undergo such a severe tear that it either won’t heal completely and remain unattached, or else the scar tissue is too massive and it can’t contract. But let’s see what happens here. The body can do miracles sometimes.”

I would have preferred a simple, “Give it time.”

When Kenny made the split second decision to throw the girl clear of the bike and let himself slam into the cliff he was knocked unconscious. They took his leg before he woke up. He said he didn’t believe it was really gone until two weeks later when he tried once again to walk. It was the girl he noticed missing. And still, sitting by the pool with drink in hand he says he can feel the leg there. Sometimes it still itches.

In Biology in college I had to dissect frogs. That is where I met Paul. I liked to peel the skin slowly and see the colors and shapes emerge no longer pressed with life. He would stick his fingers into the guts and wiggle everything around. I remember he pumped the heart between his finger and thumb, pushing blood back into the lifeless body. “This is the strongest muscle in the body,” he said and squished it. “But look.” Squish.

It has been two years since Paul left, and half that much since I could look up. I helped him put up his movie posters all over the house, high and low. He built that diving board so I could relax. He would watch me dive and each time I would approach the pool he’d call out, “Flip! Flip!” regardless of what dive I was practicing. He could only cannonball.

I remember one hot day I was diving mindlessly, mostly just for the feel of the springs under my legs and the first moment of perfect release. I pulled myself half out of the water, dripping, and looked at Paul sitting fully clothed reading his newspaper.

“Come jump with me,” I said.

“I’m dry,” he said without looking at me, “and I like it.”

“I’ll teach you how to dive.”

“I like my way. It makes a better splash. When you hit the water it hardly ripples.”

“So you are saying you like to splash?” He should have known what was going to happen after this.

“Of course. It lets everyone know I am here.”

I slipped back into the water and drew my arms forward sharply. The bow of water cracked against the newspaper and dripped to Paul’s lap.

“For God’s sake!” He yelled and stood up. “Why does everything have to be a damn game to you?” He left his paper on the ground and walked in the house. I just wanted him to know I was here.

I don’t remember his reasons for leaving, though I’m sure I used to. All I remember was that he wanted more of a movie life. He hated the parts of life that were never on screen, like paying bills, cleaning bugs from the windshield and not being able to climax. So I guess he left for a life filled with picturesque sunsets and easy plots.

I tried to make our plot easy. I would give in to whatever fantasy I knew he was living. I would never tell him of my problems. No one does that in the movies. But there was nothing I could do about the sunsets. That is not how I live anymore. I tried, but now I can’t. I don’t even dive. Now I sit on the edge of the board, my toes teasing the water, my head slipping back so I can see the empty sky and I think—I think that sometimes it still itches.

 

Steele Campbell

 

Broke in Two by Steele Campbell first appeared in Issue 1 of Bare Fiction Magazine, December 2013.